Soccer Europe Qualification Matches 25 March 2023
Czech Republic vs Poland - Match Preview
Czech Republic’s H2H record with neighbours Poland is evenly matched at four wins apiece, but the hosts have won three of the last four encounters. That should give them a boost as they open their European Championship qualification (ECQ) campaign bidding to maintain a proud record of appearing in every Euro final tournament since becoming an independent nation, something they will be fancied to continue in a group also featuring Albania, Moldova and the Faroe Islands.
Although the Czechs have only won one of their last seven games (D1, L5), at home they’re a difficult side to beat, losing just one of the last nine internationals they hosted (W5, D3). They took the lead inside 15 minutes of three of the last four of those (W2, D1, L1) so manager Jaroslav Šilhavý – whose final international appearance as a player was against Poland – would certainly like his side to make another fast start.
Poland fell at the last 16 stages of December’s World Cup when they were beaten by eventual runners-up France, and begin their ECQ campaign with a new manager in Fernando Santos. “We have chosen the best,” Cezary Kulesza, head of the Polish Football Federation, said after they got their man, who led Portugal to victory in Euro 2016 and the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League.
His stock with his new employers would rise even higher if he can mastermind a win in the Czech Republic, as the Eagles have lost both previous H2Hs in this country. But as they prepare to make the trip south, they can be encouraged by only losing one of their last seven away games (W4, D2 – excluding walkovers) and scoring in all but one of their last 11 ECQ away fixtures (W6, D3, L2).
📋 Players to watch: Czech Republic will lean heavily on the experience of Tomáš Souček, who has earned more caps (56) than any of his fellow squad members and only lost one international in which he scored (W5, D1). Record goalscorer Robert Lewandowski netted Poland’s last two goals, both coming after the 80th minute.
⚡ Hot stat: Six of Czech Republic’s last seven ECQ games produced exactly three goals (W5, L2).
France vs Netherlands - Match Preview
France enters this opening game of their 2024 Euro qualification campaign looking to bounce back after their demoralising penalty shootout defeat against Argentina in the 2022 World Cup final. This clash between Group B’s two highest FIFA ranked sides marks the beginning of a new era for France after the resignation of the French football federation president Nöel le Graet and the retirement of several key players, including former captain Hugo Lloris.
Kylian Mbappé has been handed the armband after becoming just the second player in history to net a hat-trick in the WC final and you’d imagine the leadership he displayed throughout that World Cup campaign was a factor in coach Didier Deschamps’ decision. Five wins across the previous six H2Hs against the Netherlands (L1) should give Deschamps and his team believe that even in the absence of their retired big-hitters they can extend their current nine-game unbeaten run on home soil in Euro qualifiers (W7, D2).
Like their hosts, the Netherlands were also knocked out of the 2022 WC by Argentina, falling to a penalty shootout defeat in the quarter-finals. When it comes to qualifiers, facing France doesn’t necessarily conjure up good memories for the Dutch, as the Oranje did not manage to qualify for the 2018 World Cup when both teams were in the same qualifying group, partly due to two H2H losses ‘to nil’.
Interestingly, the last two times Netherlands failed to qualify for a Euro finals (2016 and 1984) were also the two most recent tournaments to be played in France, with coach Ronald Koeman being part of the team that failed in 1984. Koeman will hope things are different this time around as his side’s recent form is impressive, with their last 90-minute defeat coming in June 2021 (W14, D6 since).
📋 Players to watch: France’s star striker Mbappé scored the game’s first or last goal in the previous two H2Hs held in France. Memphis Depay will look to counteract any Mbappé involvement and he has been involved in three of Netherlands’ previous five H2H goals (G1, A2).
⚡ Hot streak: None of the last seven H2Hs has featured a goalless first half, with all seven seeing the half-time result mirrored at full-time.
Sweden vs Belgium - Match Preview
Having appeared in the last six European Championships, Sweden will face the toughest task Group F has to offer in their opening game when they welcome FIFA’s #4 ranked side, Belgium. Ranked 19 places below Belgium in 23rd, Sweden seemingly has their work cut out to get their qualification campaign off to a flying start, but they should be boosted by winning nearly three-quarters of their last 22 home Euro qualifiers dating back to 2006 (W16, D5, L1).
The overriding story of this duo of qualifiers for Sweden leading into the week is that 41-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimović has been recalled to the squad despite making just four appearances for AC Milan this season. With 62 international goals, Ibrahimović is Sweden’s leading all-time goalscorer and his presence in these qualifiers could be a godsend given he has scored in eight of his last nine Euro qualification appearances (inc playoffs).
A new era dawns for Belgium in the wake of Roberto Martínez’s post-World Cup departure, with Domenico Tedesco taking over the reins. Tedesco inherited a side approaching the twilight of its ‘golden generation’ and has already shown he isn’t afraid to stamp his authority on a misfiring Belgian side by omitting Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel from his latest squad despite the pair holding 239 international caps between them.
The primary aim in the infancy of Tedesco’s tenure is undoubtedly to simply be at the finals in Germany in 2024, and with more than one year to knit his side together before the main event, he ought to feel well-placed to make a challenge if they can navigate qualification. They’ll have to do so without Eden Hazard after his retirement from international football, but having won seven successive Euro qualification away games, Belgium will hope his presence won’t be sorely missed.
📋 Players to watch: Buoyed by scoring a last-gasp winner for Newcastle before the break, Sweden’s Alexander Isak has registered the second goal of the game with his last four international goals. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku has made himself at home in Euro qualifiers, netting in five successive games, with the last three of those seeing him assist one too.
⚡ Hot streak: Belgium has not conceded more than one goal in an away Euro qualifier since 2011.
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